The Most Important Rays Season Ever

March 7, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays infielder Hak-Ju Lee (66) prior to the game against the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

While the title may lead you to believe that this post is referring to the 2012 Rays MLB season, that isn't quite the truth. Instead, it is the Rays Milb season that is the most important ever. The talent gushing from the recently released full season rosters displays why there is such optimism for the future of this club. For example, the Bowling Green Hot Rods have a legitimate prospect at every position while the Stone Crab's rotation is brimming with high upside arms (Wilking Rodriguez, Albert Suarez, Enny Romero, and Braulio Lara is a crazily high potential rotation). There is a reason to get excited, and there is also a reason to understand the importance of the upcoming season.

The Rays possessed 10 first round picks (7 coming in the supplemental first round) last year, the most any team has ever had. With the majority of these players signing close to the deadline, the draftees have had little professional experience to this point. The 2011 season will be the first for players such as Guerrieri and Garvin. Even though some of the top draftees, such as James Harris, may only receive around 275 PAs this year in short season ball, the impressions those plate appearances make can not be overstated. The initial performances of these top picks will have a drastic effect on the 2013 top prospect lists, as you will see below.

Josh Sale, 2010 draft, first round pick.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 5
2011 Performance: 239 PAs, .210/.289/.346, 4 HRs, 41 Ks.
2012 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: NR

Justin O'Conner, 2010 draft, first round pick.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 8
2011 Performance: 197 PAs, .157/.234/.354, 9 HRs, 78 Ks.
2012 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 27

Drew Vettleson, 2010 draft, supplemental first round pick.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 11
2011 Performance: 267 PAs, .282/.357/.462, 7 HRs, 20 SBs.
2012 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 9

Jake Thompson, 2010 draft, second round pick.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 13
2011 Performance: 114.2 IP, 2.90 ERA, 4.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9.
2012 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: NR

Derek Dietrich, 2010 draft, second round pick.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 25
2011 Performance: 538 PAs, .277/.346/.502, 22 HRs, 128 Ks.
2012 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 13

Ryan Brett, 2010 draft, third round pick.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 26
2011 Performance: 270 PAs, .300/.370/.471, 3 HRs, 21 SBs.
2012 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 14

Todd Glaesmann, 2009 draft, third round pick.
2010 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 16
2010 Performance: 261 PAs, .233/.297/.398, 4 HRs, 13 SBs, 70 Ks.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 24

Lucas Bailey, 2009 draft, fourth round pick.
2010 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 12
2010 Performance: 161 PAs, .182/.298/.350, 5 HRs, 47 Ks.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 20

Jeff Malm, 2009 draft, fifth round pick.
2010 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 19
2010 Performance: 223 PAs, .220/.296/.310, 3 HRs, 46 Ks.
2011 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: NR

Tim Beckham, 2008 draft, first round pick.
2009 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 2
2009 Performance: 537 PAs, .275/.328/.389, 5 HRs, 116 Ks.
2010 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 6

Kyle Lobstein, 2008 draft, second round pick.
2009 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 11
2009 Performance: 73.1 IP, 2.58 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
2010 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 11

Jake Jefferies, 2008 draft, third round pick.
2009 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 18
2009 Performance: 490 PAs, .261/.326/.359, 8 HRs.
2010 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 29

David Price, 2007 draft, first round pick.
2008 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 2
2008 Performance: 109.2 IP, 2.30 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
2009 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 1

Will Kline, 2007 draft, second round pick.
2008 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 23
2008 Performance: Did Not Play
2009 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: NR

Nick Barnese, 2007 draft, third round pick.
2008 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 17
2008 Performance: 66 IP, 2.45 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9.
2009 Baseball America Rays Top Prospects Rank: 7

As can be seen, the fluctuation between rankings based on one year sample sizes is drastic. The average player's ranking, after one year, shifted 6 spots. Two players ranked in the top 13 dropped completely out of the rankings! In the long run, one season isn't going to ultimately determine a player's value. However, since the one year sample size is against competitive competition in an open environment, the impressions the players make during the first year are crucial.

I took a historical look at how first round picks (including the supplemental first round) performed and the importance of their ranking after their first full season. Here are the notes...

  • From 2007-2009, 152 players were drafted in the first round and signed with their respective team.
  • 118 of these players made their team's Top 10 prospect list (Baseball America) the first year they were eligible for the list For example, players drafted in the 2011 draft were first eligible for their team's top list during this past offseason (2012 pre-season lists).
  • Out of the 10 first rounders, only Guerrieri and Mahtook made the 2012 pre-season top 10 list for the Rays.
  • Twenty four of the 118 players initially ranking in the Top 10 dropped out of the list after one year. For example, Josh Sale ranked 6th on the Rays Top 10 after being drafted, but fell of the top 10 list after a poor 2011 season.
  • Of those 24 players, only two ever reappeared on any Top 10 list. This would make Josh Sale a rarity if he could earn a spot on the Rays Top 10 ever again.
  • Sixty three percent of the players who didn't rank in the Top 10 after being drafted but made the list the next year found their way onto the list at least once again in their prospect career.

As seen, this season is very important for the 2011 draftees because it gives a more accurate view of the players' talent. One season's worth of sample sizes is hardly enough to write off a player, but, as can be seen through the research, a poor first year that leads to exclusion from the Top 10 list can doom a player.

With this being said, it is easy to see why there should be an eagerness and excitement to see how the first round picks from the 2011 draft perform, because the first year has been proven to be exceedingly significant.

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